Friday, December 1, 2017

Hate in the Name of Love is Still Hate

Hate in the Name of Love is Still Hate

by Ted Miller
(originally published December 2017 in Tumbleweird)

I used to think hate was just the opposite of love. I didn’t think about the subtle ways hate can disguise itself in the form of self-righteous discrimination. I hadn’t really considered the damage that could be caused when someone is told they are unworthy of love simply for being who they are.

Some forms of hateful discrimination are obvious, like gay bashing, lynching, and the many examples of systematic genocide. But hate isn’t always so blatant and obvious.

When marriage equality was on the ballot, I remember a conversation with a colleague who referred to anti-gay sentiment as hate. I thought that was a particularly strong word to use for something that seemed to be just a difference of opinion. Certainly, my religious friends who professed to love everyone but believed homosexuality to be sinful didn’t hate people who were gay, did they?

But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how insidious that thought was. You can’t “love the sinner, but hate the sin” when the so-called sin you are referring to is something that cannot be changed. When we tell someone that they are to be despised because of their identity, that no matter what they do, they are unworthy of love because of something they cannot change, we are being hateful in the most hurtful way.

LGBTQIA+[i] youth are particularly vulnerable to this type of hate. They are subject to higher levels of bullying from peers and are often rejected by their family members. It is no wonder that LGB youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers[ii]. And, tragically, too many of them succeed in taking their own lives.

As a society, we’ve come a long way in recognizing that sexual orientation and gender expression are part of the beautiful diversity in our humanity. No one should be treated differently just because of who they are. Marriage equality is now the law of the land and non-discrimination laws in many states now include sexual orientation as a protected class and.

But there are many who are working tirelessly to undo this progress. I don’t understand why someone who professes to love in the name of their religion can at the same time cause so much pain with their hatred of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Professing to ‘love and respect everyone’ through your faith while at the same time through your actions and words you work to marginalize or limit the liberty and equal treatment of our fellow citizens is hate, not love.  You can’t love the sinner but hate the sin.  Because if the so-called sin is part of one’s human identity, you cannot separate the two.

Recently our local high schools have been targeted with protesters distributing graphic, hateful pamphlets that claim our LGBT youth are destined for hell (and inexplicably linking being gay with abortion). Students have said they feel threatened while school administrators say there is little they can do if the protesters remain outside school property.

In response, a grass-roots group of parents and advocates for LGBT youth quickly organized and mobilized what they call a Love Army. They regularly gather at the same schools holding signs of love and affirmation, giving out hugs, and countering the messages of hate. Many of these same people have contacted school administrators, attended school board and city council meetings, and reached out to youth organizations to minimize or eliminate these messages of hate that hurt our most vulnerable youth. They are putting their love into action.

A similar approach can be taken anytime we see individuals or groups targeted with hate. We must speak up if we are going to overcome the hate. Make your voice heard when anti-LGBT legislation is being considered. Don’t support laws and policies that provide a license to discriminate. Equal protection means equal protection for all our citizens. We can protect religious freedom without allowing religion to be used to infringe on the freedoms of others.

Being gay isn’t a phase or a choice. It is an immutable human characteristic just like eye color and right or left-handedness. Those who claim otherwise are speaking from a position of privilege and ignorance.

Hate can be used as a weapon, inflicting deep pain with lasting scars. Hate refers to the most extreme negative human emotion. And it is antithetical to everything good in our humanity.

Hate isn’t just the opposite of love.  As Elie Wiesel put it, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” Don’t be indifferent to the suffering we inflict by idly standing by when our most vulnerable are told they are not worthy of love.

Love conquers hate.

[i] LGBTQIA+ is an all-inclusive term to describe the broad spectrum of gender, sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender expression, and other related characteristics.
[ii] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Friday, November 3, 2017

We Have a Gun Violence Problem

We Have a Gun Violence Problem 

by Ted Miller
(originally published November 2017 in Tumbleweird)

We have a problem with gun violence in the United States. If you don’t believe that, you are in denial.  More than 33,000 Americans die each year from a gun.  Homicides, suicides, domestic violence, mass shootings, and a small number of accidents. The common factor is a gun. An instrument designed to kill, efficiently and effectively.

Mass shootings get the sensationalized press, but there are so many more gun deaths that are barely noted in the daily crime statistics. Have we become so numb to the pain that each and every one of those deaths causes? Every year in the U.S. there are 21,000 suicides and 11,000 homicides carried out by gun. With each death, the lives of friends and family are forever changed. Most of those deaths are likely preventable.

When I heard the news of the October 1st Las Vegas shooting, where a single gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel killed 58 people and injured hundreds of others attending a concert, all in a matter of minutes, my heart sank. And then as the inevitable polarized debate filled newspapers, opinion pieces and social media, I was angry.

Angry because yet again everyone retreated to their corners. The same rhetoric, the same shouting about the second amendment, the American way, the claim that the government is coming for your guns, and the refusal to accept that more guns means more gun violence. And in the end, no actual dialog, no proposed solutions, and nothing to help reduce gun violence.

33,000 deaths every year.  Is this really the price we have to pay for the right to bear arms? Why are we so divided and paralyzed to inaction that we can’t do anything?

When it became known that the so-called bump stock addition allowed the Las Vegas shooter to shoot like he had fully automatic weapons, a bill was introduced in congress to limit bump stocks, with majority support from the public. But three weeks later, that bill is stalled and all but forgotten. A number of local and state laws enacted to address gun violence across the country have recently been rolled back. How does that improve gun safety?

For any other public safety issue, we take action to find out the causes and then take corrective action to reduce or eliminate the hazard. Motor vehicle accident deaths have been regularly reduced, with the rate of fatalities per mile driven steadily reduced through better technology, better laws, and improved safety design. We fund research, enact regulations, and provide education that improves vehicle safety. We foster improvements in road design and traffic safety rules. And we hold manufacturers accountable when a defect in their design leads to vehicle fatalities.

“But driving a car is a privilege, not a right guaranteed by the constitution,” gun rights advocates say. So, does that mean the second amendment gives us an unlimited right to own weapons? Of course not.

We must take a hard look at the myriad of causes for gun violence, and then work to reduce the number of senseless deaths in this country. Focusing only on reducing mass shootings will do little to reduce gun suicides or domestic gun violence. Each of these problems will require a different combination of actions to address them. Gun violence is a complex problem with no simple solution.

So why can’t we study gun violence as a public safety issue and work toward reducing it? 

Outlawing all guns is not the answer, and very few people actually advocate for a repeal of the second amendment and a complete ban on guns. But we can reduce access to guns where studies show they are more likely to be used to kill. We can institute universal background checks and require all guns to be registered and licensed. We can prevent those who should not have a gun from having one. And we can do all of this while still protecting the constitutional rights of citizens to own guns.

Arguments against these types of improvements generally focus on a perceived need for citizens to arm themselves to protect their families and their property. We don’t have to restrict that right to reduce gun violence.

The opioid crisis was just declared a national emergency, allowing research to be done and action to be taken to reduce the number of deaths due to opioid addiction and abuse. Industry safety regulations enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have been developed over the years to improve safety in the public space. Medical advances have improved public health over the years, often funded by government research to target problems and create solutions to our most pressing problems. Let’s look at the gun violence problem the same way.

As citizens, we must work together to demand action. We must talk to each other instead of talking over one another. And we must reduce the power of the gun lobby that prevents any rational discussion about gun violence.

I refuse to accept that 33,000 deaths each year is the price we have to pay for the second amendment. This can’t be what our founding fathers intended when they passed the bill of rights.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Protect Your Right to Vote

Protect Your Right to Vote

by Ted Miller
(originally published October 2017 in Tumbleweird)

As a democracy, we should want the voices of all citizens to be heard at the ballot box. Voting should be easy, accurate, and trusted. One citizen, one vote. It shouldn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, your religious belief, the color of your skin, the language you speak, or your political affiliation.

And yet throughout the history of this country, those in power have attempted to suppress the vote of those who would threaten their hold on that power. Suppressing the black vote has been particularly egregious since the post-Civil War passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which states “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Poll taxes, onerous literacy or citizenship tests, and outright intimidation were used to deny blacks the right to vote. The civil rights movement of the 1960s led to laws that helped improve equality for all Americans, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed many of the mechanisms that state and local governments had used to disenfranchise racial minorities.

Fifty years later, efforts to restrict voting rights continue. In 2013, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Republican controlled North Carolina legislature enacted a bill with a host of provisions that specifically targeted African Americans, clearly aimed at suppressing their votes. The courts have since struck down much of that law, but the battle for voting rights is far from over. Similar efforts are happening in more than a dozen other states, the worst being Wisconsin and Florida. Restrictive voter ID requirements, fewer polling locations in areas with minority voters, and limitations on early voting all make it more difficult for targeted voters to exercise their right to vote.

Why is this happening? Because those in power do everything they can to stay in power. If you work to deny every citizen an equal voice, if you feel you have to suppress the vote of those who might vote against you, you don’t deserve to remain in power. Our political process has become so partisan that one party uses every means they can to maintain their dominance in government. That, to me, is un-American.

Voter suppression is counter to the idea that we are all equal, that our government is one that represents ALL citizens. If you are so afraid of a fair and open vote that you feel you have to change the rules to stay in power, you don’t believe in “one citizen, one vote.”

Election fraud is frequently cited as a reason for voting restrictions, but study after study shows that actual cases of fraud are almost non-existent, and usually the result of unintentional errors by voters or election officials. Our national system of decentralized voting, with state and local non-partisan oversight, makes it nearly impossible for widespread election fraud to occur. Rigging an election just doesn’t happen in the United States. Audits of the most recent elections in Washington State showed once again that incidences of questionable or invalid voting are exceedingly rare.

Confidence in the voting process is essential to a functioning democracy. Claiming widespread voter fraud without evidence undermines the public trust in the election process. It leads to cynicism and a feeling that one’s vote doesn’t matter.

In Washington, we are fortunate that our voting process is relatively easy and less susceptible to voter suppression. Registering is simple, voting by mail gives us all the ability to cast an informed vote without the time restrictions of going to a polling place on Election Day, and there are no restrictive voter ID requirements that make it more difficult for some to exercise their right.

As I said in my first Tumbleweird column (November 2016), everyone who is eligible to vote should do so. Don’t give up your right. If you believe in making your community and your country a better place for the future, if you believe in equality, and if you want your government to represent you as it works for all of us, vote.

Voter turnout continues to be abysmal, particularly in a year without a presidential election. With the ease of voting in Washington, there is no excuse for failing to vote. Local elections have the biggest impact on your daily life and directly influence state and national priorities. Don’t let apathy or cynicism suppress your vote.

Statistics show that older, white voters have a higher turnout rate than any other demographic. And yet younger, poorer voters are more adversely affected by policies that favor corporations and the wealthy.

Protect your right. Study the candidates and the issues. Then, exercise your right as a citizen.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Is Hate Speech Free Speech?

Is Hate Speech Free Speech?

by Ted Miller
(originally published September 2017 in Tumbleweird)

It was advertised as a Free Speech Rally. They arrived with assault weapons, tear gas, knives, and torches. Were the Charlottesville white supremacists really just protecting their first amendment rights? Or were they spreading hatred and inciting violence? When one of them used his vehicle as a weapon of terror, plowing into a crowd of peaceful counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more, was that an expression of protected free speech? Of course not.

The white supremacists, sure in the superiority of their western European race, brandishing swastikas and confederate flags, are a hateful, divisive group. That they want to resurrect the purist, Aryan Nazi fascists that we defeated in war seventy years ago angers me. It should have no place in the country I swore my allegiance to.

But do we have the right to silence them? Should hate speech be protected? Does the first amendment allow us to sow hatred? Should we allow un-American, divisive speech? Who decides?

When the Westboro Baptist Church protests military funerals with their “God Hates Fags” signs, it is disgusting hate speech, but it is protected speech. Football fans may object to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, ironically claiming his actions are an insult to the veterans who died for his right to protest, but his protests are constitutional. Even burning the flag is considered a first amendment right.

Speech that we find offensive, distasteful, or abhorrent is still protected speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that right time and again, most recently in Matal v. Tam this June. Justice Alito wrote that “speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’”

But not all speech is protected. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre and cause panic. The Supreme Court decided that in Schenk v. United States in 1919.

Similarly, inciting violence is not protected speech. And that’s what the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members were doing in Charlottesville. Violence is not speech. And when a group of men full of hatred gather in the public square, armed for combat, shouting hateful rhetoric against anyone who is not a straight, white, Christian male, taunting everyone who disagrees with them, and inciting one of their own to murder in the name of their cause, they must be held accountable.

But how? Should we just “punch a Nazi,” responding to violence with more violence? Do we become like those we oppose? No. We use our voices and the law. We use the same first amendment rights that allows them to spew their hatred.

Violence should never be the response to violence or intimidation. Political violence only leads to more violence, never to justice and peace. We who believe in fairness and equality, who believe that those principles embodied in the constitution apply to all, must use our voices, our actions, and the law to counter hate. Our right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly gives us the tools we need. Counter-protests are important, but they must be peaceful. Those who commit violence in the name of hate must be held accountable through our legal system, not through vigilantism or mob justice.

A week after the violence in Charlottesville, white supremacists gathered in Boston for another so-called Free Speech Rally. This time, however, the much smaller group of white supremacists showed up were met by more than 40,000 people who were there to peacefully counter their message of hate. There were no injuries and no property damage. This is the power of the message of peace and love. The response to the previous week’s violence was public outrage, consequences for the hatemongers (who lost jobs and friends), and a suppression of hate speech through peaceful counter-protests.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, 1967 

So, let us continue to speak out forcefully against hate. Let us continue to peacefully assemble with counter-protests. Let us block the Westboro hate with angel shields, overwhelm the white supremacists with counter-protests of love and peace, and show through our words and actions equality and fairness for all. When we live the principles of our constitution, when we use our first amendment rights to speak the truth, and when we use the law to hold accountable those who cross a line into violence, we uphold the constitution and make the world a better place.